Nothing reminds us of tradition and family history like the food we enjoy on special occasions. For recent immigrants, living in rural communities can make it challenging to access meats and vegetables they remember from back home.
That is certainly the case for Katherine Marcano-Bell of Washington County. She moved from Dominican Republic to New York City when she was 11 and later to Iowa for college.
“A lot of people have a hard time wrapping their head around some of the meat cuts we use,” she said. “It’s not what Americans are used to.”
Her experience highlights an emerging opportunity for pork. The National Pork Board, on Oct. 2, released a study titled “Time to Tango: Latinos Are Pork’s Future,” that points out the value of this demographic to farmers and retailers, while also noting how Hispanics are underserved by current marketing channels.
“The better we understand their cultural nuances, differences based on country of origin, geography within the United States, age and other demographics, the better we can attract them to pork by offering authentic options,” the report stated. “It’s critical that packers and retailers understand how many Latinos live in their local region and where they or their ancestors came from.”
Marcano-Bell, a Washington County Farm Bureau member, said the food traditions in Dominican Republic more closely resemble those in Venezuela, Panama and Brazil than the food from Mexico. “I had never tried a tamale before moving to New York,” she said.
For pork, Marcano-Bell’s traditions include the use of tripes (intestines) to make longaniza, a type of blood sausage; mondongo, a stew made out of stomach lining; fatty skin deep fried for pork rinds and pig legs including hoof.
“Nothing goes to waste,” Marcano-Bell said.
The report noted that often big grocery retailers lose customers to smaller specialty food shops because immigrants can’t find the meat cuts they remember from back home at larger stores.
At the same time, some retailers may feel pressured to cater to the trendy world of plant or lab-based imitation meat. Though these products are currently making headlines, a study by Iowa Farm Bureau recently noted that, at least in Iowa, shoppers remain partial to real meat.
The sixth annual Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index® found that more than 9 in 10 (96%) of Iowa households eat meat or eggs at least weekly, a number that has been consistent over the six years of the Iowa Farm Bureau survey of Iowa shoppers.
Finding her home
Marcano-Bell’s traditions have now taken on a new era of complexity as she, and her husband Brandon Bell, raise their two children on an Iowa farm.
The couple met just over a decade ago after Marcano-Bell moved to Cedar Rapids. About the same time, Bell moved back home from Kansas City, where he had lived and worked following college.
Bell grew up on the family farm and it was that life he wanted to come back to. He was able to buy land for a hog barn, which set him on his way to independence.
Over the last several years, the couple have built on what Bell started, expanding their hog operation to four barns, buying 100 acres of crop land from his parents and renting additional acres for corn and soybeans.
Through the process of building a family and a farm, Marcano-Bell said she finally remembered what being home felt like.
She said getting to this point was at times a hard journey. She often had to fend for herself in places with few Spanish speakers and even less support.
“It wasn’t until I came into this family that I felt at peace, really at home in my life,” she said. “I finally feel like I’m firmly back in a family. [The Bells] brought me back to who I really am.”
Over the last few years Marcano-Bell has become somewhat of an evangelist for pork, sharing through social media information on nutritional value of the meat as well as her own experiences as a hog farmer.
She shared the story of a family member living on the East Coast, who announced earlier this year she and her husband had become vegetarians. Marcano-Bell reached out to her, sharing a little about her life and work and offered to send her a meat care package if she wanted it. Not many weeks later the family member was back on social media posting about all the great meat cuts she was grilling thanks to her Iowa hook-up.
“I didn’t pressure her, just offered my perspective on things,” Marcano-Bell said. “I want to use social media to change perspectives and help people connect with where their food comes from.”